Temple by the river

Temple by the river

Temple by the river

It was quite a few years ago that I had last paid a visit to this well known temple. Though in the vicinity of Mysore which I often visit, I could never set aside some time to make a trip to this pilgrim town until recently. Nanjangud, the famed religious destination, is what we are talking about. At hardly 23 km beyond Mysore on the road to Ooty, Nanjangud is well connected and has adequate facilities for visitors. Situated on the right bank of the Kapila, a tributary of Cauvery, the temple at Nanjangud is one of the biggest and most sacred shrines of the State. It is also an ancient temple with a history of more than a thousand years.

Dedicated to Lord Shiva, it is called ‘Dakshina Kashi’ or the ‘Kashi of the South’. Nanjangud was also called Garalapuri. The presiding deity here is Shiva in the form of Nanjundeshwara. The name itself has a mythological story behind it. Ages ago, when the gods and demons were churning the great ocean to get life-giving nectar, at first, dark poison surfaced. Fearing that the poison would spill over and destroy everything, Shiva drank it all to save the world. But, to save Shiva, Parvathi clasped his neck tightly to prevent the poison from spreading all over his body. Shiva’s neck became blue and dark. Shiva is not only known as ‘Nanjundeshwara’, ‘the one who drank poison’, but he is also called ‘Neelakantha’ on account of his neck turning blue. The name of the temple is  Shrikanteshwara.

The linga at the temple is said to have been installed by sage Gauthama long ago. But, according to legend, it was Parashurama who built a temple here. Parashurama, who wanted to absolve himself of the sin of killing his mother, came here to perform penance. He chose a place close to the confluence of the rivers, Kapila and Koundinya. With his axe, he unknowingly touched the head of Shiva who was performing penance underground. As blood oozed out from the ground, Parashurama feared he had committed another sin. But, soon the lord appeared and consoled him. Parashurama, as ordained by Shiva, built the temple at Nanjangud and continued his penance here for many years. The confluence nearby was named Parashurama Kshetra. A pilgrimage to Nanjangud will not be complete without a visit to Parashurama Kshetra.

The Ganga rulers were the first to make renovations in the temple in the early ninth century. Thereafter, Cholas, Hoysalas and much later, the Mysore Wodeyar kings made significant contributions towards the renovation of the temple.

The present entrance tower which rises to 390 feet was constructed during the period of Krishnaraja Wodeyar III in 1845. The tower is a masterpiece of architecture in deep red with seven tiers topped by seven gold plated kalashas.

The temple has also been patronised by Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan during their times. Once the royal elephant of Tipu had an ailment in its eyes. After a prayer was performed at the temple, its eyesight is believed to have been restored. Tipu referred to the saviour god as ‘Hakim Nanjunda’, after the elephant’s name. The god has yet another name, Vaidyanatheshwara, one who cures ailments.

The vast temple complex has a kalyani, many smaller shrines and statues. There are temples of Narayana, Chandikeshwara, Natya Ganapathi and Ramanjaneya, to name a few.

Among the statues numbering over a hundred, a large statue of Shiva in penance draws your attention. The chariot festival during March-April is when the town turns into a sea of pilgrims. The river Kapila which flows close by amidst greenery is a pleasant sight.

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